Advocacy group files lawsuit on behalf of married gay couples seeking green cards

The article below was written by Meghan Barr from the Associated Press, but I found it on ABC News.  The article talks about how Immigration Equality, an advocacy group working for immigrants’ rights, has filed a lawsuit against several government employees on behalf of several gay couples who have not been able to receive green cards for their foreign-born spouse simply because the Defense of Marriage Acts prohibits recognition of same-sex marriage. These gay couples have been lawfully married in states that recognize same-sex marriage; however, since the federal government does not recognize it, the fact they are married is basically void.

If you are heterosexual and married, green cards can be given to your foreign-born spouse because they are recognized as your immediate family. However, gay couples do not get that same luxury because they are not recognized as “legitimate” yet. And as a result, gay couples with one foreign-born spouse await uncertain futures as they hope for (but are often denied) green cards that will enable the couple to remain together.

I believe marriage is marriage. It does not matter who you are or who you marry. The rights allotted to heterosexual couples should be allotted to gay couples. America preaches that they are the country of “equality” and land of the “free.” But honestly, how “equal” are we when gay couples are not even recognized by the federal government and cannot receive the same benefits as their heterosexual counterpart? And how “free” can we honestly be when the government, by enacting laws like DOMA, basically dictate who you can marry if you want to receive benefits?

Married Gay Couples Sue for Immigration Rights

By MEGHAN BARR Associated Press
NEW YORK April 3, 2012 (AP)

Immigration advocates have filed a lawsuit on behalf of several married gay couples, alleging a federal law violates their constitutional rights by preventing them from sponsoring their spouses for green cards.

The complaint, which challenges the federal Defense of Marriage Act, was filed in federal court in Brooklyn by Immigration Equality, an advocacy group. Each of the five couples named as plaintiffs is struggling to obtain U.S. citizenship for a foreign-born spouse.

The 1996 law, known as DOMA, prevents the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages and denies federal benefits to married gay couples. The federal government does not recognize lesbian and gay couples for immigration purposes, and several of the couples have been denied green cards.

“The families in today’s lawsuit meet every qualification for immigration benefits, with the sole exception that they happen to be lesbian or gay,” Rachel Tiven, executive director of Immigration Equality, said in a statement.

All of the plaintiffs were married in states that have sanctioned gay marriage. If the couples were heterosexual, the government would recognize the foreign spouse as an immediate relative of the U.S. citizen, paving the way for citizenship, advocates say. The lawsuit claims DOMA violates their constitutional right to equal protection.

The lawsuit was filed Monday against Attorney General Eric Holder; Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano; U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services director Alejandro Mayorkas; Robert M. Cowan, director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services National Benefits Center; and Daniel Renaud, director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Vermont Service Center.

The federal government declined to comment Tuesday.

Plaintiffs Heather Morgan and Maria del Mar Verdugo, who live in New York City and were married last year, said their plans for the future are in limbo as they await the status of their green card application for Verdugo, who is from Madrid. But they know it’s unlikely to be approved.

“We love one another without measure,” said Morgan, 36, marketing director for a global non-profit organization in New York. “And all we want is the opportunity to be recognized as the family that we are, just like anyone else.”

Verdugo, 42, said it’s painful not knowing whether they will be able to raise children together in the U.S.

“We would love to have a family,” she said. “But at this moment, we can’t do it.”

The plaintiffs include immigrants from South Africa, Japan, Venezuela and England.

A federal judge in Massachusetts declared a key section of the law unconstitutional in 2010 after state Attorney General Martha Coakley and the legal group Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders sued. The judge found that the law interferes with the right of a state to define marriage and denies married gay couples an array of federal benefits given to heterosexual married couples, including the ability to file joint tax returns.

An appeal by a bipartisan congressional group will be heard Wednesday by the federal appeals court in Boston.

DOMA was enacted when it appeared Hawaii would soon legalize same-sex marriage and opponents worried that other states would be forced to recognize such marriages. Since the national law was passed in 1996, many states have instituted their own bans on gay marriage, while eight states have legalized it: Connecticut, New York, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, Maryland and Washington state, as well as the District of Columbia. Maryland and Washington state’s laws are not yet in effect and may be subject to referendums.



About Haley Behre

I graduated from Syracuse University in December 2011 with majors in newspaper journalism and women and gender studies. Using these majors, I aspire to become a journalist who writes about human rights issues. I have held internships at the Syracuse New Times, Dash Media PR Firm, Syracuse Post-Standard and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. I also had an internship at the Not For Sale Campaign Syracuse chapter, which is a non-profit organization dedicated to eradicating human trafficking. I was born in Seoul, Korea on September 30, 1990 and moved to the United States before I was one year old. When I was 8, my family and I moved to Norwich, England for three years. While I was here I was immersed into a new culture and got to experience many things other children my age do not get to. Over the three years, I visited Ireland, France and the Netherlands several times, and Belgium, Wales and Sweden once. In the winter of 2010, I got an amazing opportunity to visit Kenya for a month. This was by far the single most eye-opening experience of my life thus far. The natural beauty of the landscape and its people do not compare to anything I have seen. I currently intern for the Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press in the hopes of getting a full-time job at a newspaper or non-profit after.
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